U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, provided reporters Thursday with the most detailed explanation yet of the CIA’s presence in Benghazi, Libya, and the agency’s response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, while also identifying the two former Navy SEALs killed that night as being employed by the CIA.
But some news organizations, including the Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post, already knew that the two former SEALs — Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — were working for the CIA and had agreed not to publish the information at the government’s request.
While AP, the Times and the Post held back this detail following an official request, reporters at other news outlets may also have known or assumed the men were not security contractors given the nature of their work in Libya. ABC News, for example, reported that Doherty had been working to “round up dangerous weapons” in the country. One national security reporter told The Huffington Post that it was an “open secret” in national security circles that the former SEALs were working for the CIA.
Apparently, only 7 of the 30 consulate employees were actually working for the State Department. All the rest were CIA. What precisely they were doing in Benghazi, whether this screwed with the chain of command, what role this played in the confusion in those critical seven hours — that has yet to be determined.
The latest from David Ignatius also dispels a few rumors, claiming there was no “stand down” order, that the drone in question was an unarmed drone that was diverted to provide a view of events and also that fighting appeared to stop at 1 am. Then this:
5:15 a.m.: A new Libyan assault begins, this time with mortars. Two rounds miss and the next three hit the roof. The rooftop defenders never “laser the mortars,” as has been reported. They don’t know the weapons are in place until the indirect fire begins, nor are the mortars observed by the drone overhead. The defenders have focused their laser sights earlier on several Libyan attackers, as warnings not to fire. At 5:26 the attack is over. Woods and Doherty are dead and two others are wounded.
There are still some very big questions to answer, especially why security was not beefed up in the weeks before when it became clear the consulate was a danger point, why Stephens was put in a place that was mostly CIA with such a tiny State Department contingent and why military assets were not used to secure the area, even after the fighting stopped. (As far as I can tell, there is no current information on what our military assets were doing at the time.)
It’s also becoming clear that a lot of our response depended on local cooperation from the Libyan government. This cooperation happened but was often delayed, confused or incompetent. In fact, there are indications that this may have been an inside job by some of those Libyan resources.
So, yes, this dismisses some of the more egregious accusations. But we continue to circle back to the big question: why was a United States ambassador put in harm’s way without the kind of protection he would have in a peaceful country? And why were our military assets not deployed? Why did this remain a CIA op when it become obvious that they were in over their heads?
The cooperation of the media in keeping the CIA’s presence (and, presumably, continued involvement) is a bit concerning. It might have clarified things a lot earlier. But I really don’t have a problem with it. I prefer that the press be discrete about some things. There’s no evidence that the CIA was torturing people or disappearing dissidents. Revealing their presence prematurely could only endanger our operations there.
As I said on Twitter last night, we now have some answers to our questions. But we also have a lot more questions.
Update: More from the LAT:
Senior intelligence and Defense officials say there was some coverage by unarmed surveillance drones during part of the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack, but no feed was available for the president. The Special Operations team arrived on the Italian island of Sicily hours after the attack was over. And “no AC-130 was within a continent’s range of Benghazi,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
That begs the question, of course: why weren’t they there?